In God’s House

The challenge is to resist circumstances. Any idiot can be happy in a happy place, but moral courage is required to be happy in a hellhole.

—Joyce Carol Oates

The thing about anxieties is that they don’t go away so much as migrate to other areas. You can never really stamp them out, and even if what you’re obsessing over is, on its face, ridiculous, it’s hard to just forget about it and move on no matter how many times you’ve been through this before. So forgive me if I’m even more self-pitying than normal here, but I’ve been in kind of a reflective mood lately. The holidays are right around the corner, and I’m starting to understand why they’re so stressful for so many people. I mean, the whole point is that they’re fun and festive, right? But it doesn’t seem to go that way for most people. I’m not buying anyone gifts this year. I found a second job (it’s seasonal, but still), which will hopefully enable me to make ends meet for the time being, but beyond that, I’m out. Right now, I have to look out for myself and no one else. It’s just where I’m at.

The crazy thing, of course, is that now I have to fight the urge to indulge in all those things that I’ve been holding back on lately. Even with my income nearly doubling, my personal budget sheet is going to be only slightly in the black. I’m not sure how long it’s going to be before I can move back to NYC. I’m hoping to do it by next fall, but at the rate things are going, who knows? This is one of those cases where I wish I had one of my optimistic (or is it fatalistic?) friends around. You know, one of those people who says, “Oh don’t worry, if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.” I hate that attitude, but it can be rather comforting. I think the universe is a pretty cold, indifferent place, but it’s not completely without order. I also have to figure out what’s going on with my healthcare and other such adult things. I was not happy as a child, so all things considered, that’s kind of a step forward. Even so.

prayer in schoolMy problem isn’t that I’ve never been able to accept responsibility; it’s that I’ve never been very good at kicking back. It’s part of the reason that I spend most of my time off sitting in my room dicking around on my computer: after a long, hard day of doing shit, that’s usually all I have the energy to do. And I’m still not working nine-to-five, which is good, as I don’t want that kind of schedule and likely never will. I think part of my fascination with religion comes with my inability to function in the gritty, messy reality that I live in. I like to think of myself as pragmatic, but since I’m an obsessive perfectionist, I’m probably more idealistic than I care to admit. Some of my favorite co-workers back at the coffee shop weren’t even particularly good at their jobs; they were just fun people to be around. I don’t know how much fun I am to be around, but I try not to let every tiny slip-up at work get to me the way I used to. My father said once that 90% of success is showing up. It’s one of the few valuable things he taught me.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m starting to wind down. I’ll keep writing these posts for a little while yet. I think I am finding better ways to communicate with people than blogging. This thing still doesn’t get many hits, but as I’ve said many times, I don’t even know who the fuck reads blogs anymore. These days, it’s all Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, or what have you. Nobody gives a shit about WordPress. In a way, it’s liberating to know that you have a small but devoted group of followers. It means that you don’t have to work as hard to keep everyone happy. I finished 30 Rock not too long ago. Maybe the reason I like that show so much is that it’s unafraid to include jokes that are so specific and obscure as to appeal to only a tiny percentage of the population. Jenna had a line at one point that was like, “You’ll have to move to the Bay Area. Have fun always carrying a light sweater everywhere.” I know millions of people live there, but still.

I have found that people tend to use their free time more efficiently when they have less of it. This is not at all surprising. I’m working full-time now, so I don’t have too many days to just sit around doing whatever. It’s only natural that I might miss that. Then again, part of my problem in the first place was that I had all this time to do nothing and no idea how to fill it. I loved computer games as a child, but even I could play them only for a few hours every day before thinking I should find something else to do. I actually did spend a lot of time with my friends in those days, it’s just that everyone seemed to think that because I had no obligations, I had nothing to worry about. It doesn’t work that way. My pursuits at the moment are still fundamentally selfish. I’m not looking for a job that will make other people happier, just one that will pay the bills and not bore me to tears. If it benefits other, great. But my motives are not altruistic by any means.

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Hawley Smoot

"Never tell the same lie twice." —Garak, after hearing The Boy Who Cried Wolf

“Never tell the same lie twice.” —Garak, after hearing “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”

I got a new job. It’s okay so far. I work at an Italian restaurant. I work the same schedule every week, which is evenings Thursday through Sunday. That is, unsurprisingly, already starting to cut into my social life. I’m not quite sure what to do about that, but I have no intention of quitting my job anytime soon. I dunno, maybe I’ll just have to get used to going out late or something. I don’t go to bars much, but they’re open until 2 or so, so I could always meet up with my friends after work is done. That, or just get used to meeting with them in the morning or early afternoon or on weeknights. There’s probably a solution here, but it will take some tinkering. This place is family-owned, which places it in stark contrast to the last place I worked. It’s a small crew here, which means everything is friendly and informal (they don’t even make me wear gloves when handling food), but it also means that I can’t just take a day off whenever I please. If they can find another person to work as busboy or dishwasher (I’m currently doing both), maybe they’ll be more flexible with scheduling. Until then, I’m working more hours than I did at the coffee shop, which also means I’m making more. I guess that’s progress.

I find myself wondering a lot how much timing has to do with my opinion of somebody. The thing about being in your twenties is that so much of your life feels like a series of missed connections. I like to think that if you really have a connection with somebody, you’ll find a way to make the relationship work, regardless of just what kind of relationship it is. But sometimes my practical concerns clash with my more idealistic ones. My needs are fairly simple, but most of the time, it still feels like my crazy thoughts and desires are just stacked up on top of each other and I’m just a vessel for whatever bizarre ambition has found its way into my subconscious this time. On the outside, I probably look more focuses and stable. Former NBA player John Amaechi’s mother once asked him, “Would you recognize your soul in the dark?” I love that question. Can people ever really change? I maintain that they can, but I acknowledge that the difference between becoming somebody else and simply maturing into a better version of yourself is vague and subjective at best, completely arbitrary at worst.

It happens sometimes that people from my past come floating back into my life. Somebody from high school messaged me on a dating site not too long ago, except his profile was blank, so I couldn’t figure out who he was. I went digging through old yearbooks and shit to try to piece it together, and I have a strong hunch, but I’m only 80% sure. I had a friend in college who basically stopped returning my calls after being very close to me for years. Still hard to explain it, really, but I think what was going through his head was that I wanted more from him than he was willing to provide, and since he had a girlfriend and a nice circle of friends who, when push came to shove, seemed to like him way more than they liked me, he wondered why he even bothered with me at all. So I’m not sure if I’ll ever see him again. I’m not sure if I want to either, but I wonder if he ever grew out of his selfishness. Because it’s still on him, you see. I wanted to be his friend and nothing more. It’s not my fault that he couldn’t go there with me.

It’s been my experience that anybody who excuses their asshole behavior with “I’m a straight-shooter, I tell it like it is” or words to that effect is really just an asshole. I’m a notorious asshole, and even I’ve never said anything like that. I’m actually not confrontational at all; I just don’t see why I should have to explain myself to other people. Because when you get right up in somebody’s face over something, it usually says more about you than it does about them, even if what they said is legitimately offensive.

I’ve seen a fair amount of talk on the internet lately about women and how they are portrayed in the media. Geena Davis wrote a fascinating piece about simple methods that screenwriters can use to level the playing field a little. It’s especially powerful coming from her, as she is a very talented actress for whom roles seem to have dried up once she reached a certain age. Well, I suppose it’s possible that she took time off to raise her family, but there’s no denying that few women in Hollywood ever remain commercially viable for very long past the age of 40. John Travolta still gets work despite being over the hill, but the women playing Tom Cruise’s love interests are typically in their 30s even though he is over 50. Seriously, how does that work? Why the hell are a few facelifts and a hairpiece all it takes to keep an actor’s career strong but not enough for an actress? Geena Davis is still pretty, not that that should be the only thing determining whether or not she gets to have a career. Oh, well. I wish her well in her feminist work.

I noticed something after starting up on season six of 30 Rock: Jenna is absolutely killing it. For whatever reason, I never found her as funny as Tracy until now, even though they’re both stuck-up prima donnas. Maybe I had some deep-seated sexism, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m loving the hell out of it.

Joanna Newsom is really something. I wish she were more famous.

A Leave of Presence

Traffic for the past month has been abysmal. I try not to let it get to me, but that’s a little bit like not going on Facebook. You can hold out for a while, but sooner or later, you lapse. It’s human. These days, I’m lucky to get five page views per day. Five. Seriously, what the fuck? This is the worst traffic I’ve had since…ever, really. I remember a four-day stretch back when I was starting out during which the only page view I got was from me checking the traffic, but this is fucking absurd. Why is nobody reading this thing anymore? Fluctuations in my blog statistics always baffle me. The quality of the content, as far as I can tell, is as strong as ever. I still update regularly, so what gives? The best traffic I ever had was in January of last year, a period during which a lot of shit was happening. But the number of people reading this thing should not be directly tied to what’s going on with me. I have a lot of opinions. I’m not running out anytime soon.

I had something that I wanted to talk about here, but I can’t remember what it was. Fuck it. I’m not asking for pity. I’m not even asking for page views or “likes”, necessarily. I just wish that I had some idea of how what I do affects other people. There were people I knew in high school who are getting married, having kids, and making a hell of a lot more money than I ever have. So what the fuck am I doing here? Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to measure yourself by who wants to be your friend, but you’re missing the point. I work part-time at a job where nobody there seems to much care what I’m doing when I’m not at work and even when I am there, they basically just make small talk. Hooray. I don’t make much money and have no idea how I’m going to get out of my current situation. And I still don’t sleep very well most nights. So I think it’s time to shake things up. I’m not sure what I mean by that, not yet. All I know is that what I’m doing right now isn’t working.

There is a restaurant near where I live at which I have become a regular. It’s nothing too fancy, just a diner where they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They just do it all so well. You could pretty much close your eyes and point to something on the menu. Odds are, it’ll be good. I try not to eat out too often. It costs more than staying in, of course, but since I’m not making that much money and have few prospects for the future, this paradoxically makes me more willing to eat at restaurants rather than staying in. When everything’s going right for you, it’s easy to do the “right” thing. So I’m trying to choose my words very carefully here. I’m not ready to unplug. I’m not going to stop going on social media for the time being, nor am I going to take a very long break from blogging. I’m just taking a step back, that’s all. I don’t want to quit my job and I can’t sever ties with my parents. Maybe I can just put a little bit more distance between myself and them, that’s all. I need the option of retiring from human society to be open if I choose to take it.

I finished the Harry Potter series last month. It was pretty good, but not amazing. If there is one character that I always identified with, it’s Lupin, probably because he knows when to let go. At first glance, his decision to resign because people don’t want a werewolf teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts might seem like a cop-out. But it isn’t, because he knows that this is a battle he can’t win. Yeah, he might be able to tough out the nonstop accusations that he is dangerous and untrustworthy, but then the bigoted parents will start refusing to let their children attend Hogwarts and that, indirectly, will hurt basically everyone he cares about. Change isn’t something you can force upon people. They either accept it or they don’t. I’m not as bitter or miserable as I’ve been at some of the other low points in my life, but I’m not going to pretend everything is wonderful either. The truth is starting to sink in for me that this year, just like every year before it and most likely every year after it, is not going to be The One Where It All Comes Together.

I think I’ve earned the right to feel a little sorry for myself. I think I’ve earned the right to wallow in self-pity. Neither my social life, my familial life, my love life, nor my professional life are anywhere near where they should be right now. And for a guy with some lofty ideals, I still like to think of myself as a pragmatist. So for the time being, I choose not to fight the good fight. I choose not to take up arms against a sea of troubles and set out to change (or rule) the world. For now, I’m going to try to have at least a little bit of fun. Failing that, I might at least gain some perspective. Because there is no one person or thing who can solve all of my problems right now. The closest I’ve got is a rough idea of what they are.

I like the final image, but I don't think this one quite captures it.

I like the final image, but I don’t think this one quite captures it.

Yeah, that's more like it. Truth be told, I probably spend more time hunched over my computer than doing anything else.

Yeah, that’s more like it. Truth be told, I probably spend more time hunched over my computer than doing anything else.

Sleeper

My father had a bit of a NIMBY reaction to my coming out.

You know, I’m not sure if that’s the best way to begin a blog post. Half of the vloggers I follow have a video that’s all about their coming out story, and I’ve never done that. Oh, I’ve told it in some fashion or another here and there, but I leave a lot out, and I’ve never had a post that’s all about it. Let’s keep it that way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: too many people conflate coming out with finding love. They are very different things.

I saw a rather boring movie called Shelter not too long ago. It meant well, but that’s the thing about all those coming out movies: they basically just want to help young gay boys accept who they are and help everyone around them accept them for who they are. That’s not enough for a movie. Some lonely SoCal teenager falls in love with a handsome older surfer, everyone finds out about their relationship, and that’s that. Our young hero never even has to tell anyone. Frankly, that’s dishonest. Coming out is never that passive. By presenting such a sanitized version of what is normally rough and messy, the filmmakers are maybe not doing the public service they think they are. Yes, it would be nice if that were all there were to coming out, but it’s never that easy. Nothing is. Oh, and our hero gets a full scholarship to a school of the arts because he’s such a talented artist. Boy, I would have liked to get a scholarship.

My boss says I need to be less robotic on the job. I think what he doesn’t realize is that I’m kind of robotic by nature. (Ironic, since the whole premise of this blog is not that I am a robot, but that I will someday build a robot army that will allow me to…oh, never mind.) Even though I smile at customers and shit, I guess there’s still something forced about it. Well, what am I supposed to do about that? Customers complain about me to him (perhaps “complain” is too strong a word, but from the sounds of things, the feedback is not entirely positive), and honestly, I’m not sure how to respond to some of their complaints. So what if I sometimes repeat their order back to them twice to make absolutely sure I’ve got it? Is that really that annoying? I can see why some might wonder why once wasn’t enough, but if that actually makes you angry, maybe you’re expecting too much. I’m doing it more for my benefit than theirs, anyway, as I am constantly forgetting shit that is supposed to be second nature. (Paradoxically, I forget it more the harder I try to remember. So maybe I should repeat orders back only once.)

What’s annoying is that I’m getting criticized not for stuff I do, but stuff I fail to do. Sometimes, I forget that we’re having a special today or I don’t know what a particular tea tastes like. Well, excuse me. I am trying to learn, but that shit takes time, and I’d have to do it in my free time anyway. I’m usually tired, but I’m almost always tired when I’m not working. This job takes a lot out of me.

I was never a master tactician. I’m not some Sherlock-style mastermind who can solve any puzzle or win any argument. As I’ve said before, I’m much more Wilson than House. (Oddly, people have compared me to House before. Probably because I’m a smartass.) My gift isn’t strategy; it’s the ability to see my way through the heart of the matter. I just keep picking away until I find out what really makes people tick. It can take a long time to get there, but I usually do, and once I do, I move on to the next thing. I’m practical. Some would say I’m an idealist, but I like to think you can be both at once.

Social settings almost always wear me out. Even when I’m hanging out a good friend, I frequently have to be alone in my room for several hours upon getting home. It’s hard for me not to be worn out by being forced to stand still and listen to someone for minutes on end. But I have to be part of the family. Maybe the reasons customers are so hard to please is because we’re all friends at the coffee shop. So I have to get along. And while I don’t try to be, I guess I still come off as a bit of a mystery.

I had a friend in college who fell in love hard in the fall semester of freshman year, then had a rough breakup in the spring. It happens. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure if I would have been better off if I had found someone way back then. Too many things were going on in my head in those days for me to fit somebody else in, as much as I wanted to. Some people meet somebody they like, and that gives them the courage to start telling their friends and family about themselves. But I don’t think I have the patience to date a closet case. I’ve been there, and I don’t feel like revisiting it.

Mainly, I’m just tired of the notion that as soon as you meet someone, your troubles are all over. I would really like to get a proper boyfriend before I’m 30, but even if that happens, I would probably spend most of my time resenting him, just as I resent basically everyone pretty much all of the time. Real change takes time. People who think that their significant other completes them are, frankly, setting themselves up for disappointment. I might have made the same mistake.

Stay

I have so many student loans that even though I haven’t graduated and thus don’t have to start paying (yet), I have already accrued several thousand dollars in debt. Oh, joy. My decision to go to grad school was founded on the belief that even though I’m tired of the way that we keep making higher and higher levels of education necessary to stay competitive in the job market, it’s worth it just to learn this shit. I really hope I’m write about that, but at this point, I wouldn’t bet on it. Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll talk about something else.

Actually, wait. I was so flustered from trying to find a decent scholarship that I even made an appointment with one of our deans to ask if there was something I was missing. She patiently explained that no, I wasn’t missing anything, and good luck finding a scholarship, but really, taking out loans and looking for a job to take the edge off of the debt was probably my best option. I’m at work as I write this part. I used to bar myself from using the internet at work, but everyone does it, and at a certain point, I’m not even sure how badly it damages my productivity. If I can’t focus, I can’t work. And I really, really need to work.

I think what drives a lot of people in my position crazy is the feeling that they have to do what they’re doing. I have to look for a job so that I can pay off all these fucking loans. What else am I supposed to do, buy a bunch of lottery tickets and hope for the best. Sure, it was my choice to go to grad school, just as it was my choice to get a job, but that doesn’t mean I get up every morning looking forward to another exciting day handling old manuscripts and shit. Paradoxically, I think working full time might help with that problem. I’m so sick of going home at the start of every weekend, then realizing that I have plenty of homework to do before class on Monday. Weekends shouldn’t feel like that. For that matter, neither should vacations, but even my winter break–which was five weeks long, natch–felt like a working vacation. That needs to change. The work never ends, and no matter what, I can’t forget it.

And now, I think I can actually move on to something else.

One of Pixar's funniest characters, I'd say. Timothy Dalton has always been better as a comedic than dramatic actor, in my opinion.

One of Pixar’s funniest characters, I’d say. Timothy Dalton has always been better as a comedic than dramatic actor, in my opinion.

I’d like to talk about something that’s been bugging me lately: Pixar. There was a stretch of ten, almost fifteen years during which I loved pretty much everything they did. Then they started to slump. Or is it just me? I didn’t see Cars 2 and thought Brave was decent, but truth be told, the turning point for me was Toy Story 3. It was clever and fun, touching even, but something about it just felt…rote. From anyone else it would be amazing, but somehow, I spent most of it wondering if there was anything in it that Lasseter and Co. couldn’t do in their sleep by now. It amuses me that every time a Pixar or Ghibli movie comes out, people argue over which of the two is better. It’s an apples and oranges thing, like most comparisons, but one thing that I have noticed (or rather, that somebody pointed out to me) is that Pixar villains are irredeemable. It is not uncommon for the antagonist in a Miyazaki movie to turn out to be not so bad after all. In fact, it’s more common than the alternative. But Pixar tends to neatly divide their characters up into the good ones and the evil ones. What that means, I don’t know. I’m just pointing it out. What I do know is that I’m tired of Pixar making sequels or prequels to their previous successes. No, I don’t see why we need a prequel to Monsters Inc. And frankly, I’m not even sure if I’ll see Finding Dori. I could have sworn that Pixar was dead-set against sequels at one point. For that matter, didn’t their split with Disney initially result from Disney’s insistence that they be allowed to make brain-dead direct-to-video sequels of Pixar classics? I’m so glad Pixar held firm on that. But even when the sequels have the same budget and creative team as the original, a little goes a long way.

I should add, by the way, that the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3 was fucking intense. If nothing else, I have to give it that.

I don’t see myself as an artist, despite much evidence to the contrary. I’ve always had a very pragmatic nature, and some part of me insists that if my work doesn’t feed the hungry or heal the sick or keep nations from going to war, I could be doing more. I’m not studying this shit just so I can become an actor, is what I’m trying to say.

I used to want to stab people in the throat when, after I finished whining about my inability to get a date, they said, “You’ll find someone.” Somehow, I don’t want to stab them in the throat quite as badly anymore. I don’t know what that means.

After I finished undergrad, I spent six months hanging around my old college town and working at one of the campus dining halls to pay the bills while I filled out grad school applications. The job was pretty simple, and the pay was nice. To top it off, I got free meals, and my coworkers tended to be very friendly. After my term ended (they gave me a grace period after I graduated during which they counted me as a student employee), I tried to get hired full-time, and couldn’t. I kept wanting to turn back the clock and go back to that job, not because it was my dream job, but just because it was good enough. Then I had to move back in with my dad because I ran out of money and didn’t want to look for some crappy job bagging groceries after finding one I’d almost enjoyed. I couldn’t figure out what to make of that. A little over a year ago, I got into a fight with my mother in which she told me that I needed to accept that I couldn’t control everything. Fine, but I just want to know what I can and can’t control. I’m tired of shit ending before I’m ready. I can take that for a little longer. But not too much. After all, if I’m going to go into debt, I should be able to say I’ve gained something worth paying for, right?